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The Perils Of "Playing At 80%"

"OK, here's the plan: You refuse to throw to 1B and I'll refuse to throw well anywhere."
"OK, here's the plan: You refuse to throw to 1B and I'll refuse to throw well anywhere."
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

It's not easy to put a percentage, or a number, to a player's health when they are not at 100%. Heck, by August who is at 100% anyway? In 2014, for key players Derek Norris, Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, Stephen Vogt, and Josh Donaldson they were far from 100%, but unlike comrades John Jaso, Jed Lowrie, and Craig Gentry when banged up they were still able to play.

The question was, should they? As much as you have to admire players going out there and giving all they have despite pain and severe limitations, in Moss' August and September struggles, in Norris' struggles that were magnified in the wild card game, in Crisp's struggles both at the plate and in CF, you have to wonder if the A's would have been better off putting in worse players with better health.

As decimated as the roster became, "worse players with better health" were always available. Sam Fuld was always available in CF. If no one else, Nate Freiman and the ever-popular (where's that sarcasm font again?) Alberto Callaspo were healthy and capable of playing standing near 1B.

Crazy as it sounds, Bryan Anderson was available to catch. Anderson got exactly one at bat, yet we have all seen time and time again where a team catches "lightning in a bottle" with a player stepping up for a small sample run of glory. John Mabry, Kevin Mass -- they may not have had great careers, but they sure had great months. You can't help but wonder what a catching platoon of Anderson and Soto might have accomplished compared to the tattered remnants of a Derek Norris.

Now there's a natural rebuttal here and it's not just, "Yeah, but all those players aren't very good." Which is true, and neither, as it turned out, were a crippled Norris, Moss, and Crisp. The rebuttal is Josh Donaldson. Donaldson was physically a mere shell of himself down the stretch, yet had enough in the tank to carry the team -- to the extent that a team can be carried to a 10-20 finish -- and fully vindicate the decision to play him at 3B every day. And that's why it's not an easy decision without the benefit of hindsight.

Personally, I would have stuck with Moss because Freiman and Callaspo are awful. Moss would have batted .162 with 2 HRs (I know this because he did) and so it goes. However, I would have gone more with Fuld because he is useful overall and in fact is arguably a better defensive CFer than Crisp at this stage of their careers.

Most of all, I would have liked to see Anderson get some sort of a shot against RHPs when Norris was so clearly and visibly a shell of himself. Yes, you'd be throwing an unproven commodity into the pennant race fire but I think it was an intriguing "wild card" (pardon the expression, or don't) to throw into the mix. Sometimes it backfires and you quickly retreat and sometimes you discover an unlikely hero as your Employee Of The Month. I'm surprised, and disappointed, that the A's didn't at least kick the tires on him down the stretch.

In any event, I'm curious to hear your philosophies on how teams should respond when their clearly better player is even more clearly playing at far from 100% while an inferior player is available on the bench and feeling great. It's a tough call because you don't want to wind up sitting a Donaldson. Or, as it turns out, playing a Norris and a Moss.

I leave you with this cartoon, which seems appropriate for the A's 2014 season.

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